We sat down with Sustainable Princeton trustee, Fran Price, MF, to talk about her time at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 28 in Dubai. When Fran isn’t serving as a board member for Sustainable Princeton, she’s the Global Forest Practice Lead for The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and attended COP because of her work in preserving forests globally. Her time at COP left her feeling more hopeful for the future, and we’d like to share some of that hope with you. Please note, this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Was this your first year going to COP?
This was my second time. I was at COP27 in Egypt last year and then I was at the biodiversity COP also last year in Montreal.
What were your major takeaways from COP?
There were two major things from my perspective that came out of COP28. One was that there was an agreement to phase down fossil fuels. For the first time, fossil fuels are actually mentioned [in an] international agreement. There is a recognition that not only do we need emissions reductions now, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
The other big takeaway was that the climate and nature communities are coming together. Nature plays a huge role in both climate mitigation and adaptation. People talk about nature being 30% of the solution to climate change, so that’s one of the big things, recognizing that role for us and other ecosystems in the fight against climate change. That has now been recognized as an official language which is great.
From a forest standpoint, there was also an agreement to end deforestation and forest degradation by 2030. Now, that’s official language in the agreement, and so it will be monitored and tracked regularly, and as part of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), what every country does to show their commitment to the Paris Agreement..
What was it like having Dubai [the United Arab Emirates] host COP28 especially since their major source of income is oil? How did they agree to this?
I think there’s a recognition that the moment is now. Everyone knows what the problem is. Even if people think that fossil fuels are part of the transition, there has to be a transition. How quickly that happens is another question and how implementation happens is another question. Signing a piece of paper isn’t actually doing it because it’s not really enforceable, but right now, there is a lot of pressure on countries that are high emitters. As it stands, whole nations are going to be washed away, when you look at the projections of sea level rise. Glaciers are breaking apart and floating away as we speak, a lot of our major cities all over the place are going to be underwater—trillions [of dollars] in economic impacts, to say nothing of other societal impacts.
There was a lot of criticism of a state whose income is dependent on oil and a President of COP that is affiliated with an oil company, hosting the COP, but in some way it brought those contradictions to the fore. Conversations took place that might not have happened if it had been in a more neutral location. I think it might have moved the agenda forward which is exciting, but now it’s like, okay, let’s focus on implementation. That’s not easy. I mean, politically, within countries like our own, as we know, even if the head of state wants to make something happen, it doesn’t always. Those kinds of dynamics are in place in several key countries like Brazil, where the legislature is at odds with Lula the president. It’s a challenging political landscape right now to really move forward in some critical places.
Finally, what can we learn as a Princeton community from COP28?
Princeton’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) is a model—every town needs one. We need to get out there to other towns and share knowledge and ways we’ve gone about making the CAP happen. We also need to remember that nature is part of the climate solution. It’s multifaceted, of course, protected areas and open spaces are part of the picture, but we need to be conscious of how we’re managing both private and public lands. All of that factors into nature being able to be our best ally in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.